We're talking heirloom seeds. Non-hybrid, non-GMO, good old fashioned, what our grandfathers' grew kind of seeds. But when thinking about heirloom seeds, there is more to think about
then what tomato you want.
grow best in your area. Growing your own food with heirlooms also gives you the ability to save seeds for the next year. With
heirloom seeds, preserving species that have been handed down for generations is important. It's what made them heirlooms in the first place.
With us, there are a lot of things we consider, like what plants grow best in our area. What plants can be grown in a short season. Though sometimes we can get a chance at 120 days, more times than not we only have a 90 day window between the last frost of spring and the first frost of fall. We also need plants that can handle our summer thunderstorms/hail, withstand natural pests in our area, and with all that - still withstand the high winds we have so regularly. Of course they have to taste good too, but we look at the BIG picture here. Consider this one point. When we bought plants for our garden, the cost was around $300 every year (including seeds); when we started our own plants, the cost was around $50-$75. Now that we will be saving our own seeds? Cost zero.
We've been saving seeds for many years, but some varieties we have still been trying out. Take this year and our corn. We have a winner and no, it's not the 7 foot tall corn stalks we having
growing in the garden even now. We choose to try one more variety. In the past we have grown Candy Mountain and loved how fast they grew from seed planted in the ground. They didn't
get extremely tall, but within 60 days had tassels and corn. By 90 days yummy! So here we are with the Golden Bantam, after 70 days they were taller than both of us. Now, the problem, not a tassel one. No tassels, no corn, no seed. Remember where we said 'were' taller than both of us? The other fault of this fast grower for us, their stalks just couldn't handle our strong furious winds that can show up out of nowhere with our afternoon thunderstorms. So as the thunderstorm raged for a whole 30 minutes, sending hail too, our 7 ft wonder just couldn't handle it. We found the corn stocks laying on the ground, broken at different levels. Roots? Great root systems, solid in the ground still.
So that brings up another thing to consider when saving seeds. Crop failure. Even with the best intentions, sometimes things just happen that are out of your control. When saving seeds, always save enough seeds for two years, so when the occasional failure happens, you still have viable seeds for the next growing season. What does the corn problems mean for us? Simple, no corn, no corn seed from this crop (which is fine by us!), which means the chickens will have to settle for barley, wheat, and oats this winter. For us? No fresh 'corn on the cob', but with canning - we still have more than enough corn to see us through.
So great, you know to save plenty of seeds just in case, but what if
you've never saved seeds before?
Simple savers & hints......for beginners
Start out slow, but do start! Remember how your kids learned to crawl before they learned to walk. It is very easy saving seeds for crops like Peas, Beans, Lettuce, Tomatoes, & Peppers. There are some basics to follow to make sure you get viable seeds for next year.
Seed saving 101...................
Diversity. Plants within the same 'family' can cross during pollination. Ever plant your yellow squash to close to your zucchini only to find your yellow squash had a funny color or your zucchini didn't hold up as well when you canned them?
Cross pollinating plants can damage your seed stock. Using these 'mixed' seeds is like starting a brand new variety, you really don't know what you're going to get. These 'new' plants may not handle your climate or not produce like the original plant. A simple rule is to keep varieties that don't flower at the same time.
This is why peas and beans are so easy to do, they are considered 'self-pollinators' meaning they pollinate themselves before they flower! Still, keeping varieties' separate will prevent any possible insect from cross pollinating. Peppers are also considered 'self-pollinators' but bees will pollinate occasionally if better pollen isn't around for them.
Another way to prevent cross pollination is to keep them separate by 150'. Not enough space? Covering them with screen can help to keep your plants from crossing.
Different plants have different concerns. Take corn for example, not a seed for beginners. If someone grows corn within a mile of you - there is a chance of cross pollinating. Seriously? Yes, corn is pollinated wind, not so much by insects. How about Carrots
or Radishes? Radishes, like the carrots and other crops actually require a second growing season to produce good seeds. We aren't going to cover all that yet, so have patience there is a ton to share in that area.
Keep the best, eat the rest. Ok, you've worked hard getting this garden going, even pulling weeds yuck! But oh, those peas look so GOOD! You want to just pick them all, really you earned those peas! STOP....look for the best plants, the biggest ones, the ones that produce the most and don't pick them. What? I worked hard to get them to this point, come on!
Seriously, to save seeds you want the best of the best. The best plants, the biggest producers, will give you the best seeds for
next year. Depending on your needs, generally keeping 1/4 of your crop as your seed sources. Weak plants will only make weak plants. Poor producers will only provide poor producers. But there are just so many peas.........still, start out saving 1/4 of your plants just for producing your seeds. Gauge your family's needs to decide if you need less seed or more. And as we said earlier, crop failures happen - even the most experienced gardeners will have that once in awhile - so plan on keeping enough seeds for two years. Remember our 7ft wonders?
Let nature do its thing. Ok, you've picked out a couple of the best pea plants, the best green beans, now what? This is the easy
part. Let those peas dry on the vine, the same with the beans.
BUT..........oh how good are we with the buts.......if you get a lot of
rain at the end of your growing season, be prepared to cover them lightly with gardener's plastic, or some other source to keep them dry. If you're in an area that gets lots of rain/high humidity days, or an early chance of frost, you can pull up plants and let them finish the job indoors- hang they in a dry area, upside down.
They are done when you can hear them rattle in the pod - their outer shells will be dry, tannish/brownish, and may even be wrinkled slightly. Shell them, place them in a container to keep them dry and store out of direct light.
Don't forget to label the containers............with dates, etc.
Rotate your seeds as well. Some seeds, like Sunberry seeds, don't keep for very long. Most will keep for 3-5 years.
Seeds for the beginner........
PEAS: Let them dry on the vine, usually about 4 weeks after eating stage, until they are brown and rattle when you shake the pods. If frost threatens, pull entire plant and hang in a cool/dry location until brown.
BEANS: Let them dry on the bush (we don't recommend pole beans), usually about 6 weeks after eating stage, until they are brown and rattle when you shake the pods. If frost threatens, pull entire plant and hang in a cool/dry location until brown.
LETTUCE: The nice thing about leaf lettuce, you can harvest the outer leaves all summer long without affecting the seed production. The lettuce will flower, with each flower containing one seed. Let the seed heads dry for 2-3 weeks after flowering.
Each head can ripen at a different time, so watch them. Once half have gone to seed, cut off the top of the plant and allow it to
dry upside down in a paper bag. You can either shake the bags to loosen the seeds or rub them in your (dry) hands.
PEPPERS: Harvest mature, fully-ripe peppers. Most bell peppers turn red when they are fully mature. If frost threatens, pull entire plant and hang in a cool/dry location until the peppers mature. Cut the bottom off the pepper and strip the seeds out. Clean off as much of the central pepper core by hand as possible. If they
are really hard for you, you can use the water method of cleaning.
Place the seeds in a sink of water and slowly agitate them. The pepper core parts and immature seeds will float to the top and the
mature seeds will fall to the bottom. Remove the floating seeds, etc. Drain, place the mature seeds on a paper towel, spread out, and let them dry until you can literally break a seed by trying to fold it.
TOMATO: Allow tomatoes to completely ripen before you harvest them for seeds. Cut the tomato in half from the core point, meaning the stem part down. Gently squeeze out the
jelly-like portion containing the seeds. Place the jelly substance and seeds into a glass jar. Add a little water and loosely cover the container and keep in a warm (60-75 degrees) location for three days. Stir this mix once a day. Don't panic when you see a fungus at the top within a few days. This fungus has a job to do. Not only does it eat the jelly coating that surrounds each seed and prevents germination, it also has natural antibiotics. After 3-4 days, fill
the container with warm water and let everything settle. Like peppers, the tomato pulp and immature seeds will float to the
top. Gently pour the floating parts out, adding more warm water to repeat the steps, until there is nothing on top and the good seeds line the bottom of the jar. Strain the seeds from the water.
Spread them out on a paper towel to dry for 2-3 days. Gently break up any that clump up together. Store them in a dry location in a envelope, plastic bag, etc.
That's it.......seed saving for the beginner.
We will be covering other seeds later this fall that require a little
more work. It takes a little planning yes, but not as hard as you thought is it? So, you got garden, you got food............